After the Christmas parade debacle, Miss Mule was mad at me for a solid 3 months. She wouldn’t get anywhere near a trailer without an absurd amount of effort on my part, she didn’t want to be ridden, and she was generally salty.
You may ask how I know that she didn’t want to be ridden. Well, she would try and take off the minute the saddle came out, she wouldn’t get near the mounting block, and if she did get near it, she would swing out as soon as I lifted a leg to get on. So, yeah, she didn’t want to be ridden. She didn’t want much to do with me at all, actually.
You may remember that when I first got her, she was perfect under saddle to the point of being robotic. She was point and shoot to the max. But I could tell she was scared of me, and preferred to be left alone. She knew her job and she did it out of habit, or perhaps fear of being punished, but there was no underlying partnership or feeling of loyalty between us. To put it bluntly, she didn’t like me.
After realizing I wasn’t going to hurt her in any way or punish her, she softened up a little and lost the outright fear. She still didn’t like me, and she started rebelling a little, especially after the Christmas parade. We went through a period of testing boundaries. I think she wanted to see how far she could push me, whether I would lose my temper, and whether I was a leader worth following.
After dealing with a persnickety mule for months, I finally threw my hands in the air and said, “Fine! You don’t ever have to like me, but you do have to do your job and tote me around the woods. And every now and then you have to get on the trailer!”
When I got Olaf in February, I noticed a shift in her attitude. All of a sudden, she was sharing attention, treats and affection with another horse. At first she seemed grateful to be left alone on the days that I focused on him, but as the weeks went on, she started acting like she wanted to be my friend. It’s very subtle with her. She would come up to me in the pasture to be petted if I was petting Olaf. Usually she prefers to be left alone and would almost never voluntarily approach me. I was able to walk up to her and put a halter on her without any food involved. I could let her loose to graze in the yard and catch her again with no problem. In short, she started acting like a normal horse that actually likes its owner.
She has been since Day 1 nearly perfect under saddle, but I started noticing a new willingness in her. Lately I’ve been able to walk her up beside anything- my truck tailgate, a flat bed trailer, the wheel well of my trailer- and get on her with no problem. She stands still and doesn’t balk or back up. Under saddle she seems more cheerful, for lack of a better word. For example, the other day we went on a short trail ride and she offered to go down to the creek, a variation from our usual route, and a side trip that makes the ride longer. She seemed happy to be out for a walk and curious about what was going on down by the water.
I let my daughter ride her for the first time the other day. I led Ellie because my daughter isn’t confident enough to tell Ellie what to do, and Ellie does NOT like it when she doesn’t understand what the rider wants. It was safer to lead her, so that’s what I did. I also ponied Olaf off of her on a different day, and she was such a rock star. I was alone and I didn’t get a picture, sadly, but both Ellie and Olaf were delightful. Ellie is the type that knows when there’s a job to do, and understands that her job is to be the rock solid, responsible one. You just can’t put a price on that work ethic. It’s invaluable.
All winter I’ve ridden Ellie in a rope halter and reins. I’ve been riding in my bareback pad too. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a saddle or used a bit! At first we had some steering issues in the rope halter, but now it’s the new normal. She’s just as responsive in it as she is in a bit. I can ride her out on the country road in the halter and know that she’s not going to take off on me or do anything stupid.
Everyone says that mules are different than horses, that they are smarter and harder to win over, and after my experience with Ellie, I have to agree. I hope this streak of willingness continues, and that we really have turned a corner in our relationship. I enjoy riding her more than any other horse, which is odd considering that I felt up to this point that she fundamentally did not like me at all. I could just tell that she was a next-level type equine, that there is a lot of thinking power under those big ears and that, if I could ever win her over, we would be a great team. I think if we get in sync with each other, it will be the type of partnership that comes along once or twice in a lifetime. It’s been hard won, that’s for sure!